I've Never Done NaNoWriMo, But I Think This is My Year
On the first day of National Novel Writing Month, I seek out the advice of an avid writer: myself, circa 2007. Join me as I browse my database of defunct novels and prepare myself to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
I've always wanted to write a novel. I haven't yet, but trust me, it's not for lack of trying.
Technically, I have completed a novel. Two, actually. But both are, well, quite dead to me. Harsh? Hey, it's a rough business. Here on the eve of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), my first step is to kick my feelings to the curb. This isn't about feelings. It's not about ego, and the sooner we all accept that, the more productive we'll be. This month is about one thing, and one thing only.
Writing a damn book.
It's not a new adventure for me, writing a long-form fiction story. If you've read my incredibly embarrassing take on the polarizing art of Fan Fiction, you know I have an abiding love for Star Wars. My first complete novel was set within that universe, in the period of time between the first and second movies of the Young Anakin trilogy.
Anakin took a deep breath. “Master, the attacker wanted me. I know it. I want your permission to stay here and investigate.” “No, Anakin, I can’t let you . . .”
Obi-Wan stopped. He looked hard into his padawan’s eyes. There was something there, something he just couldn’t put his finger on. True, Anakin was extremely strong in the Force and most likely could take care of himself, but he was still very headstrong and often times cocky. Then again, Obi-Wan had been too . . .
I re-read my Star Wars novel recently, and much like the protagonist of this particular trilogy, it was a disappointment. Not so much the story, which had moments of readability, but the voice and structure was exactly what you'd expect from a 12-year-old.
However, reading this prize-winning selection from the 2006 season of Amateur Hour wasn't a waste of time. Analyzing my voice and style, albeit dated, helped me recognize key shortcomings and set goals for NaNoWriMo.
Of course, my Star Wars Fan Fic is not the only story I wrote in my preteens. I discovered two more TextEdit files from this era as well, which I'll share with you, to the horror of my better judgement. Welcome to the hard drive of my ancient MacBook; this model to be exact. Let's dive in before I change my mind.
Henley picked up the weapon. “You like my spear, young ‘un?”
“If they call me young ‘un one more time . . .” Jacob hissed to himself.
Henley laid the spear carefully back down, then pulled out the long sword hanging at his side. “Your sword will complement my spear nicely in battle."
Jacob caught his breath as he realized the sword his enemy was holding was his own, beautiful blade. His eyes filled with anger, he replied, “That sword is far too good for the likes of you, vermin!”
"Slayblade" is a novel that, honestly, I don't even remember writing. It's incomplete, clocking in at only 12,000 words, and it miserably fails the Bechdel test, which is even more embarrassing than the dire lack of structure and arc. There's one character who speaks only in song, and he sticks around for several chapters, which I found tedious. The titular sword is somehow sacred, but I never got to the part where I explain why, so add closure to the list of things this story lacks. I don't remember writing this at all, and maybe that's for the best. Let's forget this one ever happened.
The Green Stone, 2008
The old woman shuffled slowly along, smiling, as she always was, exposing her toothless gums. Her tattered brown dress hung loose around her shoulders and her knotty, unkempt hair draped down her back. Murmuring gently under her breath, she reached into the old leather pouch at her waist and pulled out a small bone whistle. Placing it to her lips, she blew it softly. A low humming sang out. Removing it from her mouth after a moment, she uttered a string of words and raised her arms above her head, waving them back and forth.
Zarre walked beside her, fascinated by her rituals, but starting to get impatient as well. “Well?” he asked carefully.
Ah, yes, "The Green Stone." Besides my Fan Fiction, this was my first complete novel. This story, in its heyday, was my entire world. It was my crème de la crème. It was my raison d'etre. It was my pride and joy.
I re-read it a few years ago.
It was "The Lord of the Rings."
No, I'm not trying to say it was magnificent in scope and arc. No, it didn't weave hundreds of captivating storylines into a frictionless masterpiece. Rather, it's a story about a young boy and his best friend who are tasked with transporting a physical object across the world to prevent it from falling into evil hands.
It was literally "The Lord of the Rings," just a little bit different.
I couldn't believe it. As a 20-something reading the novel I wrote when I was 14, I couldn't believe I had been so blind. I had plagiarized my favorite series, which I had just finished reading the year prior, and I couldn't even see it.
I found myself angry at my former self. How could he have done this? Looking back, I know I shouldn't have felt this way, because this novel was my first breakthrough. It inspired so many other short stories, outlines, ideas, and sparked a fire that would burn for years to come. Yes, it was unoriginal, but I wasn't trying to publish it and make a fortune.
[Disclaimer: nobody makes a fortune publishing a book anymore.]
That novel set me on the course to where I am today. I'm not proud of it, but in a way, I guess I am? Because if it wasn't for "The Green Stone," I probably wouldn't be challenging myself to take on NaNoWriMo this year. I might not even have this job, as the senior manager of an online publishing platform, where I spend every waking moment of my life reading stories.
If I may, I'd like to offer the following advice to everyone who creates, either professionally or non:
Don't beat yourself up over your past writings.
I've done it, far too often, and it's looked and sounded like:
This is trash.
How could I think this was good?
I can't believe I ever thought I could write.
It's so easy to do this. Believe me, I get it. The expectations I put on myself are mountainous, unattainable, utterly divorced from reality. Too often I quit before I begin, because I'm too scared of failing on that first step.
I looked back at my pre-teen self, and I was disappointed that he wasn't a better writer. The fact is, that guy was talented in ways that I'm not. That guy sat down and wrote a book.
Honestly, that guy's awesome. I want to be more like him.
Those stories we wrote when we were younger? They molded us, inspired us, and taught us things we might not realize until much later. We owe so much to the defunct novels on our hard drives. We shouldn't speak badly of them. In fact, we should toast them, because those stories were the foundation for everything greater to come. It's because of these stories that I have a game plan for NaNoWriMo '21.
I am, historically, utterly incapable of taking the "no-edits-just-write" approach to story creation. I can't do it. I write one chapter, if I'm lucky, and then I spend three days tweaking every sentence until it's "perfect." Everyone reading this is shaking their heads right now. Everyone knows this is not a successful approach. In fact, it's the antithesis of successful storytelling. It's what they teach you on Day One:
Don't edit, just write.
I'm all about transparency, so I'm going to be transparent here. It's unlikely that I'll have 50,000 words written on November 30. "Not with that attitude," you might say, and that's a fair point. While my goal is, yes, to write 50,000 words in 30 days, my loftier goal is to begin a training period that will help me learn to switch off my habitual editor's brain and just write.
If I succeed at that, I will win my NaNoWriMo. And maybe, just maybe, I'll write a book along the way.
I'm excited to start this journey. I'd love to invite you along. I'm planning to publish a recap story here on Vocal at the end of the month, so subscribe if you want to catch that wrap-up. I'll also post weekly stories on my Instagram with word count progression, relatable memes, and whatever other notable NaNoWriMo content comes my way.
See that guy? I was that old the last time I wrote and completed a novel. That guy was amazing. I doubt I can beat him at his own game, but we're going to have fun no matter what. There are no expectations, NO EDITING, just writing, learning, and growing.
Let's write a damn book.
Joshua Luke Johnson is a senior content manager at Creatd and head of Content Moderation and Curation at Vocal.
About the Creator
Joshua Luke Johnson
Former Head of Content @ Vocal
Interview with Christopher Paolini: https://vocal.media/interview/christopher-paolini-interview-part-1-of-3
Good luck with NaNoWriMo! Inspiring words <3
Cute childhood pic